"To accomplish this is an honor," Santana said. "I know how much this means to New York. This is very special. We worked very hard, all the things that we have gone through, that I have been through."
A year ago at this time, Santana was alone in the punishing Florida heat, rehabbing after the surgery that threatened his career. The thought was that he might be ready for the end of last season, but that didn't work out. When he arrived in training camp in February, he was a question mark. No one knew whether the two-time Cy Young winner could be a dominating pitcher again.
"If we go back to Spring Training, there were a lot of questions: 'Can he be the same pitcher he used to be?'" Santana said after his no-hitter. "I didn't know, and I still don't know. But one thing I can tell you ... every time I go out there, I compete. I try to give my team a chance to win."
And Santana has delivered on that promise. He took a 2.75 ERA into his start against the Cardinals and was coming off a shutout of the Padres in his previous start.
The Mets have tried to protect their ace, limiting his pitch count, and manager Terry Collins hoped to keep him at about 115 pitches against St. Louis. The manager and pitching coach Dan Warthen huddled often in the dugout as Santana's pitch total, complicated by five bases on balls and eight strikeouts, kept creeping up. When the left-hander came to the dugout after seven innings, the manager approached Santana.
"He told me I was his hero," the pitcher recalled.
It seemed a nice sentiment. Santana's reply was direct.
"I said, 'I'm not coming out of the game.'"
There was no argument from the manager.
"I couldn't take him out," Collins said. "I just couldn't."
So, Santana stayed, and with the help of a marvelous catch by left fielder Mike Baxter and a disputed call on a foul ball that appears to have nicked the third-base line, he sailed into the ninth inning. After a couple of fly-ball outs, the last batter was David Freese, MVP of last year's World Series.
Santana missed with his first three pitches, then worked the count to 3-2. On his 134th pitch of the night, more than he had ever thrown in a game before, he delivered one of his patented changeups that dipped into the dirt. Freese swung and missed for the final out.
And the celebration began.
This is the franchise of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden, who all started their careers with the Mets and threw no-hitters elsewhere. This is the franchise of Philip Humber, drafted by the Mets and traded in the deal that brought Santana to New York, who pitched a perfect game earlier this season.
Santana reflected on what he had done against the defending world champions, a team leading the National League in a half dozen offensive categories.
"Coming into this season, I was just hoping to come back and stay healthy and help this team," he said. "And now, I am in this situation in the greatest city for baseball. Amazing."
Casey Stengel couldn't have put it any better.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.